Five years is a long time in the drafting world. It’s longer than the vast majority of college players’ amateur careers with their schools. It’s longer than a lot of NFL front office’s regimes, especially if those regimes happened to be located in Berea, Ohio (aka the Cleveland Browns).
To look over a five-year body of work in terms of draft history, then, is a decent chunk of information to sort through, though of course the closer you get to the present, the less data you have on the most recent draft picks.
Pro Football Focus has recently taken the approach of looking back at the past five classes for teams and sorting their picks between their most and least productive, and they recently took a stab at this process for the AFC North division, which necessarily includes the Pittsburgh Steelers.
They used the Wins Above Replacement metric in order to judge picks, so this is more about the players than the value of their selections. It’s no surprise that the Steelers’ most successful draft picks over that time have come in the first couple of rounds.
Though Ryan Shazier is in my opinion glaringly absent from the list, most of the rest of the first- and second-rounds picks from this time span get a nod, including the most recent. T.J. Watt, they say, “was all over the place as a rookie”, in a good way, while JuJu Smith-Schuster graded out as the 29th-best wide receiver last season.
Also receiving positive attribution was Artie Burns. The site had graded him above 75.0 (in their own system) during his first two seasons. I’m sure there will be some disagreement here. Stephon Tuitt had graded north of 80 for three straight seasons. The best of the bunch is Le’Veon Bell, who has four grades above 90 under his belt.
On the flip side, some popular names make the list with the worst WAR score, including Sean Davis and Bud Dupree. According to their charting, Davis has given up over 1000 yards in coverage and missed 19 tackles in each of his first two seasons. Dupree “has struggled in both run defense and as a pass rusher, recording only 22 sacks and hits combined over the course of his career.
Landry Jones and Jesse James are not spared either. The bugaboo for James is his career .87 yards per route run. A mention is given to Justin Brown, a wide receiver you may or may not remember who was on the 53-man roster for most of one season in 2014, playing 264 snaps.
One other interesting bit of information provided is a chart of where players drafted came from. 78 of their picks over the past five years have come from Power 5 schools, which is no surprise. An additional 15 percent came from Group 5 schools, while only seven percent came from the FCS level or lower. That seven percent translates to Javon Hargrave, Nick Williams, and…I’m actually not sure who the third one would be. Frankly I think their percentages are wrong or they misidentified a player as an FCS player.